Driving Without a License in South Carolina

What does it mean to drive while your license is expired, revoked, suspended or cancelled in South Carolina?

What does it mean to “drive without a license” in South Carolina?

Driving without a license can refer to three scenarios. You’re stopped for an offense and:

  • You have a license but it’s not in your possession. In other words, you were licensed to drive but lacked proof, an infraction that may be dismissed once you can prove that you possessed a valid license at the time of the incident.  (Note: you may have to pay a fine.)
  • You never applied for a license (or your license expired).  S.C. Statutes § 56-1-20 states that no person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway in South Carolina unless that person has a valid motor vehicle driver's license. Violators are typically fined under $200.
  • Your license was cancelled, revoked or suspended by the authorities. For first time offenders, this offense is punishable by a fine of up to $300 and may be sentenced up to a maximum of 30 days jail time. If the suspension is DUI-related, a first offense carries a fine or imprisonment of between 10 and 30 days.

Who doesn’t have to have a valid South Carolina driver’s license?

South Carolina exempts (S.C. Statutes § 56-1-30) the following persons from having to possess a valid South Carolina license:

  • Any employee of the United States Government while operating a motor vehicle owned by or leased to the United States Government and being operated on official business, unless the employee is required by the United States Government or the Federal agency by which he is employed to have a State driver's license;
  • A nonresident who is at least sixteen years of age and who has in his immediate possession a valid operator's or chauffeur's license issued to him in his home state or country may operate a motor vehicle, but a person may not claim nonresidence exemption under this provision who does not maintain a permanent residence address in the state or country of which he holds a valid and current operator's or chauffeur's license at which he regularly receives his mail and which address is on file with the motor vehicle authorities of that state or country; also, a person may not claim nonresidence exemption under this provision who for all other intents and purposes has or may remove his residence into this State;
  • Any nonresident who is at least eighteen years of age and whose home state or country does not require the licensing of operators may operate a motor vehicle for a period of not more than ninety days in any calendar year, if the motor vehicle is duly registered in the home state or country of the nonresident and a nonresident on active duty in the Armed Services of the United States who has a valid license issued by his home state and the nonresident's spouse or dependent who has a valid license issued by his home state;
  • A person operating or driving implements of husbandry temporarily drawn, propelled, or moved upon a highway. Implements of husbandry include, but are not limited to, farm machinery and farm equipment other than a passenger car.
  • Any person on active duty in the Armed Services of the United States who has in his immediate possession a valid driver's license issued in a foreign country or by the Armed Services of the United States may operate a motor vehicle in this State for a period of not more than ninety days from the date of his return to the United States; and
  • A citizen of a foreign jurisdiction whose licensing procedure is at least as strict as South Carolina's, as determined by the Department of Motor Vehicles, who is at least eighteen years of age, who is employed in South Carolina, and who has a valid driver's license issued by that jurisdiction may drive in this State for five years if the foreign jurisdiction provides a reciprocal arrangement for South Carolina residents. The provisions of this item also shall apply to the dependents of foreign nationals who qualify under this section

How do you fight the charge?

Fighting a “driving without a license charge” can be difficult.  Once the district attorney or prosecutor alleges that you drove without a valid license, the burden of proof is on you to prove that you did possess a valid driver’s license at the time of your offense. If you don’t have evidence of a license, you lose! Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from the advice or negotiating skills of an attorney.

Can an undocumented immigrant obtain a driver’s license in South Carolina?

An undocumented immigrant is not permitted to obtain a driver's license in South Carolina.

 

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